Bright moments for difficult times, in this week’s Take Five.
Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis, “Quarantine Blues”
Last Friday, Jazz at Lincoln Center dropped a welcome surprise: “Quarantine Blues,” a swinging tune for our socially distanced age. Performed by members of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra in their respective homes — in New York and New Jersey as well as four other states, as far as Texas — it takes the form of a dynamic video collage, of the sort that’ll be familiar to anyone who has been teleconferencing or distance-learning over Zoom.
What’s remarkable about “Quarantine Blues,” though it shouldn’t come as a surprise, is just how high it sets the bar, despite the unusual working conditions. Though each musician filmed and recorded using a smartphone, the band sounds almost perfectly in sync, expertly navigating the many twists and turns in the tune. (Whoever edited the video and mixed the sound deserves a nod.)
As for those twists and turns: “Quarantine Blues” was made as a sort of exquisite corpse, with JALC artistic director Wynton Marsalis composing the first chorus, followed by tenor saxophonist Victor Goines, followed by alto saxophonist Ted Nash. Then Marsalis takes a trumpet solo, and the cycle begins again with choruses by trombonist Chris Crenshaw, bassist Carlos Henriquez and tenor saxophonist Walter Blanding. And so on; for anyone familiar with the individual voices in the band, it’s a delight just to hear the distinct character of each chorus.
At the same time, all these strands weave together into one strong fabric — as Marsalis underscores with a shout chorus, just after the six-minute mark. The message is implicitly clear: we’re in this together, working toward the same ends.
Jazz at Lincoln Center’s concert season is on hold, but the organization has developed a robust series of online concerts, webcasts and educational programs at jazz.org.
Matt Wilson Quartet, “Hug”
Matt Wilson, the preternaturally good-natured drummer-bandleader, takes social distancing literally but not seriously. Or is it the other way around? Whatever the case, he named his forthcoming album Hug! — after a friendly act of human-to-human contact that didn’t used to be so fraught. The title track is as bright and engaging as you’d expect: its main melody suggests the sort of ditty you might whistle while doing the dishes, though its tone gets pensive during the bridge.
The Matt Wilson Quartet — with saxophonist Jeff Lederer, cornetist Kirk Knuffke and bassist Chris Lightcap — has developed just the right sort of knockabout rapport for a tune like this. Following Wilson’s jaunty lead, they bring heart and humor to the tune, joined by a light cohort of strings. Knuffke takes the first solo, sounding alert yet relaxed, and Lederer follows suit with a tenor tirade that shows his affinity with oldfangled rhythm-and-blues. It all amounts to a winning first dispatch from Wilson’s new album, right on time.
Matt Wilson’s Hug! will be released on Palmetto Records on Aug. 28; preorder here.
In Common, “Lotto”
Jointly led by tenor saxophonist Walter Smith III and guitarist Matthew Stevens, the post-bop unit In Common released its self-titled debut in 2018. The success of that venture led to a sequel, with a different handpicked rhythm section: Linda Oh on bass, Nate Smith on drums and a newcomer, Micah Thomas, on piano.
On “Lotto,” based on a scrap of melody by Stevens, the implicit promise of this personnel is made manifest. It’s a groove tune on the precipice, with driving momentum and an insistent spirit of play. Stevens and Smith trade improvised passages in an unstructured tandem, somehow managing to stay out of one another’s way. And their band mates attack the tune with evident gusto; take note of the bold, cascading fill that Thomas plays behind the two soloists, leading up to the three-minute mark.
In Common 2 will be released on May 15 on Whirlwind Recordings; preorder here.
Giveton Gelin, “True Design”
I could be mistaken, but I believe my first experience with trumpeter Giveton Gelin came at a memorial tribute to Roy Hargrove, in January 2019. Gelin, a Hargrove protégé, made several poised appearances over the course of the concert, making a sterling impression under no small pressure. He’s now 21, the recipient of awards and acclaim, and has just self-released a debut album, True Design.
The album — recorded in Gelin’s hometown of Nassau, Bahamas — features a bright young quintet with Immanuel Wilkins on alto saxophone, the aforementioned Micah Thomas on piano, Philip Norris on bass and Kyle Benford on drums. On the title track, which makes resourceful use of that trumpet-alto front line, Gelin distinguishes himself as a natural bandleader, sure of footing and bearing. You’d be right to detect a faint echo of Hargrove in the tune, but even more on the mark if you name-checked Marquis Hill. But it’s clear that Gelin has his own ideas and intentions; like Thomas, whose brief but powerful solo here is a head-turner, he’s obviously someone to watch. (Buy or stream True Design at his website.)
GoGo Penguin, “F Maj Pixie”
The special-effects unit known as GoGo Penguin — a Manchester, England trio made up of pianist Chris Illingworth, bassist Nick Blacka and drummer Rob Turner — has always courted a sense of grandeur in its music. That mandate extends to the band’s self-titled sixth album, due out on May 1 on Blue Note, and it comes across clearly in this video for a single called “F Maj Pixie.”
Filmed earlier this year at Depot Mayfield, a nightclub in Manchester’s historic train station, the video captures the group’s knack for balancing precise details with sweeping gestures. In Europe, the gold standard for this heroic sort of piano-bass-drums alignment was E.S.T., and in the United States it was (and still is) The Bad Plus. But GoGo Penguin has developed its own angle, as well as a proprietary sound. Note the abrupt downshift at 4:15, which sets up a gluey coda, like a slo-mo replay of all the manic sparkle that had preceded it.
GoGo Penguin will be released on Blue Note on June 5; preorder here.